Subject: This Easter Season: The Historical Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Acts 17:31 “God will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Ever wonder if people who have done horrible things in this life will be held accountable one day? This week, Syrian dictator Assad again bombed his own people with chlorine gas. Planned Parenthood announced that 2017 was a record year for profits, making $543 million dollars, with 320,000 innocent babies being murdered in the womb. After over 17 months in a Turkish prison, Pastor Andrew Brunson will be tried on April 16 for the crime of “Christianization”, carrying the penalty of 35 years in prison. As of last week, the Chinese government banned anyone from buying a Bible online, while allowing the Quran and Buddhist Sutras to be sold. China also revised the ‘Regulation on Religious Affairs and Cyber Security’ law, which cracks down on Christians using the internet.
These examples of widespread immorality can appear to carry no judgment. The perpetrators simply keep going and even justify their behavior. But in our verse this week, the apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that this is not how things will end. He states that God WILL judge the world. One day, every person will be judged fairly for their deeds. It should be a frightening reality to know God judges fairly. Think about it – anyone who has committed a crime and stands in court will be afraid of that judge’s decision if they know the judge is fair. Because they will get the punishment they deserve for their crime. This is Paul’s point.
And he is further saying that the Judge, God the Father, has not only appointed Jesus Christ as the supreme arbiter for each of our days in court, but He has proven that this is so – by His Resurrection. In other words, Paul is making the truth claim that by raising Jesus from the dead, God has announced judgment on those who have rejected Him while also announcing pardon on those who turn to Him for forgiveness. And God is claiming this is just and fair. Since the impact of the Resurrection on mankind is this powerful, do we have strong evidence that Christ’s Resurrection is a real historical event?
In his former Veritas Forum live debate on “The Resurrection of Jesus” with atheist North Carolina Professor Bart Ehrmann, Professor William Lane Craig presents the four objective historical facts that he believes provide strong, compelling evidence for the resurrection. So let’s take a look at this evidence.
FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. This fact is highly significant because it means that the location of Jesus’ burial site was known to Jew and Christian alike. In that case, the disciples could never have proclaimed his resurrection in Jerusalem if the tomb was not empty. New Testament researchers have established this fact on the basis of evidence such as Jesus’ burial being attested in the very old tradition quoted by Paul in I Corinthians 15.3-5, which dates to AD 36, within five years after Jesus’ death. So short a time span rule out the resurrection being a mere legend.
FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of His women followers. One of several reasons which have led most scholars to accept this fact is the Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body (Matthew 28.15), which shows that the body was in fact missing from the tomb. The Jewish response to the disciples’ proclamation, “He is risen from the dead!” was not to point to His occupied tomb and to laugh them off as fanatics, but to claim that they had taken away Jesus’ body. So we have evidence of the empty tomb from the very opponents of the early Christians.
FACT #3: On multiple occasions, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. This is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, with one of the reasons being the appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of these appearances, which is one of the most important marks of historicity. Gert Ludemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. They were willing to go to their deaths for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “That is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind Him.”
So the question is: what is the best explanation of these four facts? If you are a Christian, you can feel confidently rational in your belief that best explain for these four facts is “God raised Jesus from the dead.”
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.